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Iraq Points to Pullout in 2010
Over the weekend, Maliki appeared to support Obama's time frame in an interview published by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. After the interview began generating headlines Saturday, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad contacted Maliki's office to express concern and seek clarification on the remarks, according to White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.
Later in the day, the U.S. military distributed to media organizations a statement by Dabbagh saying that Maliki's comments, which his own office translated from Arabic, had been "misunderstood and mistranslated." It did not cite specific comments.
But by Monday, Maliki's office had posted on its Web site the Arabic version of the Der Spiegel interview. It was clear that Maliki, without prompting, expressed support for Obama's position.
"Obama's remarks that, if he takes office, he would withdraw the forces within 16 months, we think that this period might increase or decrease a little, but that it might be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq," Maliki said, according to a translation by The Washington Post.
"Obama is closer to Iraqi opinion on the issue of withdrawal of U.S. forces," said Ali al-Adeeb, a top official in Maliki's Dawa party. "We don't know him personally, but we like his opinion and his calls to set a timetable to withdraw forces."
The senator from Illinois arrived in Iraq on Monday morning, traveling as part of a congressional delegation that includes Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), both critics of the war.
The U.S. delegation's first stop in Iraq was the southern city of Basra, where the Iraqi army -- with support from U.S. and British troops -- recently wrested control from extremist Shiite militias. The senators did not venture into the city center, where about 30,000 Iraqi soldiers patrol the streets.
Instead, they remained at the Basra base for about three hours, receiving what Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, called a "situational update" from British, Iraqi and U.S. military commanders.
Gen. Muhammad Jawad Huweidy, the top Iraqi military commander in Basra province, said Obama did not discuss troop withdrawals or Iraqi troop readiness, instead focusing on Basra's economic conditions.
In Baghdad, a red carpet with yellow trim was unfurled at 1:50 p.m. outside Maliki's residence. Ten minutes later, the senators and their entourages arrived, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and David M. Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator. After meeting with Maliki for nearly an hour, Obama declined to say what they discussed.
Obama's convoy arrived next at the residence of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Talabani, chief of staff Naseer al-Ani and two other senior advisers were waiting to greet the senator.
After that meeting, the delegation visited with Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. They discussed Iraq's political and security conditions, displaced Iraqis and Iraqi forces' readiness for U.S. troops to withdraw, according to a statement from Hashimi's office.